Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival thinks trans women aren’t real women, or something

Far be it for me to be an expert on what it is to be transgender, but how hard is it to understand that a trans woman is a woman, and she should be allowed to do, you know, woman-things like attending music festivals for women?

Apparently, real hard.

The Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival is finding itself yet again in hot water for expressing its “intention” that only “womyn born womyn” attend the annual shindig.

We’ve written before about “safe women’s spaces.”  A friend of mine who is lesbian was uninvited from a women’s dance in San Francisco because her long-time once-lesbian partner had transitioned and become a straight man. And straight men weren’t permitted at the women’s dance, so a couple that had attended the dance for years was no longer welcome. And it hurt.

That situation isn’t entirely the same as this, but it still gets to the same issue about when safe spaces end up becoming so safe they’re dangerous.

Here’s the latest statement from the festival:

michigan-womyn's-music-festivalWe have said that this space, for this week, is intended to be for womyn who were born female, raised as girls and who continue to identify as womyn. This is an intention for the spirit of our gathering, rather than the focus of the festival. It is not a policy, or a ban on anyone. We do not “restrict festival attendance to cisgendered womyn, prohibiting trans women” as was recently claimed in several Advocate articles. We do not and will not question anyone’s gender. Rather, we trust the greater queer community to respect this intention, leaving the onus on each individual to choose whether or how to respect it. Ours is a fundamental and respectful feminist statement about who this gathering is intended for, and if some cannot hear this without translating that into a “policy”, “ban” or a “prohibition”, this speaks to a deep-seated failure to think outside of structures of control that inform and guide the patriarchal world.

Trans womyn and transmen have always attended this gathering. Some attend wanting to change the intention, while others feel the intention includes them. Deciding how the festival’s intention applies to each person is not what we’re about. Defining the intention of the gathering for ourselves is vital. Being born female in this culture has meaning, it is an authentic experience, one that has actual lived consequences. These experiences provide important context to the fabric of our lives, context that is chronically missing from the conversation about the very few autonomous spaces created for females.

As a guy, I’d always figured that the last people on earth to have a problem with trans women would be women who spell “women” with a y.  And the whole “you can come, but we really don’t want you” thing is rather lame.

Then there’s this notion that “being born female in this culture has meaning, it is an authentic experience, one that has actual lived consequences.” Yes, I suppose that’s true. So, does that mean trans men are welcome at the festival?  They were after all “born female” (let’s not get derailed by the semantics of that one) and had the “authentic experience” growing up with all the prejucice and experiences that born-women face. So would a post-transition trans man be welcome?  Does anyone doubt that the Womyn’s festival would have no problem declaring a 300 pound, beer-bellied — and bearded — trans man a “real” man, and quickly showing him the door?

It’s also interesting, in this discussion of intolerance and self-definition, that the Womyn’s festival statement mentions the term “cisgendered.” It’s something created by activists, and intended to describe people who aren’t transgender. It’s now used by the Advocate and HRC, among others. In addition to the fact that it’s not a real word, and that its intended scientific derivation is scientifically inaccurate, many gay people find “cisgendered” offensive, in part because it’s often used when strongly criticizing people who aren’t trans, and in part because it bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the anti-gay slur “sissy.” The overall connotation, for many, is decidedly negative.

If we as a movement are going to fight for the right to self-define, and if trans people in particular are going to fight for their right to be called some words and not others (that end in y), then that same right applies to the vast majority who not only never chose to be called “cisgender,” but many of whom find the label extremely offensive.

Truly liberal movements respect everyone’s self-identity. It’s a message the Womyn’s festival, and the “cissy” adherents, should both take to heart.


Follow me on Twitter: @aravosis | @americablog | @americabloggay | Facebook | Instagram | Google+ | LinkedIn. John Aravosis is the Executive Editor of AMERICAblog, which he founded in 2004. He has a joint law degree (JD) and masters in Foreign Service from Georgetown; and has worked in the US Senate, World Bank, Children's Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and as a stringer for the Economist. He is a frequent TV pundit, having appeared on the O'Reilly Factor, Hardball, World News Tonight, Nightline, AM Joy & Reliable Sources, among others. John lives in Washington, DC. .

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